Ehud Olmert – The Trigger Happy State Attorney

The Jerusalem District Court acquitted today former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from corruption charges in the “Rishon Tours” and “Talansky” affairs. Olmert was also acquitted from corruption charges, but found guilty of breach of confidence, in the “Investment Centre” affair.

In other words, Olmert was acquitted of the charges that brought about his resignation as Prime MInister in 2008, half way through his tenure.

Two years ago, when the trial started, I wrote the following in a blog post:

Who knows whether Olmert is innocent or not. My gut feeling is that there is no smoke without fire. But I too am influenced by the media’s hysterical reporting… I don’t know the real facts and neither do any of these esteemed journalists. Contrary to popular belief, I happen to think that Olmert was a fine prime minister, who had to deal with major issues during his tenure… [and] dealt with these issues as reasonably as one can expect. He certainly did a better job than the one his successor is doing.

So I too am giving Olmert the benefit of the doubt. For now.

Olmert is hardly an innocent lamb. He’s an astute lawyer and a sharp politician. Did he help friends in exchange for political gains? Absolutely. Did he bend rules as mayor of Jerusalem to advance projects he favoured? Probably yes. Did he look the other way when “not so clean” money exchanged hands? It would seem so.

But show me one successful mayor or one successful politician who is squeaky clean. We all feel disgusted when we see the wheeling and dealing of people such as Olmert, but such behaviour is unfortunately a fact of life in politics. The real question is not whether Olmert is as bad as other politicians (only probably smarter), but the unbearable easiness with which the State Attorney’s office brought about the resignation of a governing Prime Minister on charges that turned out to be false.

The State Attorney has a vital role in Israeli politics, as in any democracy. He is the watchdog of politicians and makes sure they do not abuse their power. But in recent years there is a general feeling of unease in light of the number of prosecutions of politicians that ended up nowhere, either because the case was never brought to trial or, as in Olmert’s case, because the politician was acquitted by the court. The feeling is that the State Attorney’s office (together with the police) is a little too trigger happy, trying to score points without making sure the case is solid enough. The end result is serious damage to the ability of the government to, well, govern.

Moshe Lador, the State Attorney, is scheduled to speak later today. Back in 2008 he told his colleagues he would bear “personal responsibility” should the “Talansky” affair did not result in a guilty verdict against Olmert. He has already apologised and settled a defamation suit out of court following a lie he told a newspaper about Olmert. Anything short of an immediate resignation by Lador would be adding insult to injury.

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